Colorado’s White River Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2014
Oil and gas development threatens fish and wildlife, clean waterApril 9th, 2014
Matt Rice, American Rivers, (803) 422-5244
Luke Schafer, Conservation Colorado, (970) 824-5241
Neil Shader, The Wilderness Society, (202) 429-3941
Washington, D.C.- American Rivers named Colorado’s White River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2014 today, shining a national spotlight on the threat oil and gas development poses to fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, and recreation opportunities.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Matt Rice of American Rivers. “Major decisions this year will determine whether we can safeguard the White River’s unique wild values for future generations. Unless we strike a balance between energy development and river protection, Colorado will lose a priceless piece of its wild heritage.”
The White River Basin is threatened with an unprecedented level of oil and gas development—roughly 15,000 new oil and gas wells have been proposed— that could cause irreparable change not just to the river, but the entire character of the region. Likely impacts include pollution and dewatering of surface and groundwater supplies, the conversion of agricultural lands, long-term socioeconomic impacts to local communities, and the destruction of habitat for numerous species, including Colorado cutthroat trout.
“The amount of oil and gas development and inadequate conservation measures the Bureau of Land Management proposed in the draft plan was extremely disappointing,” said Luke Schafer, West Slope Advocacy Director of Conservation Colorado. “If the draft moves forward as written, there could be significant impacts to the landscape, wildlife, and watershed of the White River. We are hopeful that BLM will rectify those shortcomings in the final plan.”
“For so many years the White River area was known as the ‘Mule Deer Factory’ because of its huge deer herds,” said Allan Reishus, a sportsman from Craig, Colorado. “We’ve seen a serious and steady decline in deer populations in recent years. We need BLM to adopt a plan that avoids further damage, and in fact enhances the area’s wildlife habitat.”
“The threats to the White River again highlight the importance of protecting the lands and waters near Dinosaur National Monument— they are just too wild to drill. Using a Master Leasing Plan to identify what resources, like clean river water, will be affected by drilling is the best way to ensure responsible management. These lands and waters belong to all Americans, and the BLM owes it to everyone to make smart decisions about drilling,” said Soren Jespersen, Planning and Policy Representative for The Wilderness Society.
American Rivers and its partners called on the Bureau of Land Management to balance new development with protection of the White River and conservation of the area’s unique wild values for future generations. The groups urged the agency to ensure protection of special places such as Dinosaur National Monument and “Lands with Wilderness Character” units within the purview of the White River Field Office.
The two forks of the White River start high up in the Flat Tops Wilderness Area— the second largest wilderness area in Colorado— within the White River National Forest. Originating from the melting snow and ice above Trappers Lake, the North Fork of the White River flows freely through beautiful canyons and countryside to the desert plains of the Uintah Basin. The North Fork joins the South Fork near the small hamlet of Buford as it winds west, passing through a bucolic valley dotted with hay meadows, farmhouses, and abundant wildlife. Roughly 7000 citizens, the majority residing in the towns of Meeker and Rangely, depend on water supplies from the White River. The river provides habitat for imperiled fish and wildlife species, and is home to some of North America’s largest big game herds. The lower reaches of the White River are also home to four endangered fish species.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2014:
#1 San Joaquin River
Threat: Outdated water management and excessive diversions
At Risk: River health and resilient communities
#2 Upper Colorado River System
Threat: New trans-mountain water diversions
At Risk: River health and recreation
#3 Middle Mississippi River
Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky
Threat: Outdated flood management
At Risk: Wildlife habitat and public safety
#4 Gila River
Threat: New water diversions
At Risk: River health, fish & wildlife, recreation, and tourism
#5 San Francisquito Creek
At Risk: Fish and wildlife habitat and public safety
#6 South Fork Edisto River
Threat: Excessive water withdrawals
At Risk: Fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, and water quality
#7 White River (CO)
Threat: Oil and gas drilling
At Risk: Drinking water supplies and fish and wildlife habitat
#8 White River (WA)
Threat: Outdated dam and fish passage facilities
At Risk: Salmon, steelhead, and bull trout populations
#9 Haw River
Threat: Polluted runoff
At Risk: Clean water
#10 Clearwater/Lochsa Rivers
Threat: Industrialization of a Wild and Scenic River corridor
At risk: Scenery, solitude, world-class recreational values